At this time of year, I like to think of myself as a little kitchen elf. A very happy, joyful little elf who's just content to cook up meals and treats during this cozy time of year.
I have many things I'd love to bake this month. I know you can relate! Realistically, there's only so much time and capacity. And when it comes down to it, a lot of the baking and gift-giving has to happen right around that week before Christmas so we're working with a very narrow time-frame. So while there are plenty of cookie, cake, candy recipes I'd love to get to, I end up trying just a few new recipes because there are some true favorites that we just have to have for the holidays. I thought it'd be fun to share some of these musts with you today. I'm sure you have your own holiday favorites (and probably don't need any more ideas from me - so consider this pure entertainment)...and I'd love to hear about some of yours if you feel like sharing!
* First up...these Italian tri-color cookies. These are one of the best things I learned to bake! My family and I just love them with a passion. I love using Scharffen-Berger bittersweet chocolate here; it tastes amazing and gives these "cookies" a genuine chocolate flavor that you might not get from the bakery. We have to have these at Christmastime (and other times of the year) - sometimes I make two batches if time allows. They are time consuming to make but the recipe makes a big batch and the cookies freeze really, really well so they are a great make-ahead! I save some for Christmas day because they're that special.
You know I love these cookies so much, I even turned them into mini cupcakes - a little (time-saving) twist I'm actually pretty proud of.
* When I think Christmas cookies specifically, this next cookie is the one. I really only make these at Christmastime but I think this may have to change because it's just too amazing! These chocolate gingerbread cookies are soft and chewy, like the best kind of chocolate chip cookie but with fresh ginger and holiday spices that I crave right now. Even if you're not a fan of gingerbread per se (and I'm not), this is something to try because it'll knock your socks off. It has the perfect amount of spices and it's so unusual, perfect for the holidays.
* Given my serious love of baked goods with almond paste, these almond cookies are a must. I make them all year-round but they are essential at Christmastime. It helps that I can often get almond paste on sale this time of year, and I stock up.
The classic pine nut/pignoli version is great, too. I like them all sorts of ways.
* For gift-giving (and munching), I love this toffee recipe. I've made it the last two Christmases and I intend to do it again. They make great gifts and stored in a tin at room temperature, you can enjoy them for weeks.
* I made these peppermint brownies below on a whim last December and they turned out to be such a successful experiment. I originally made them as a teacher's gift and my son fell in love after a taste. It's based on a few recipes I cobbled together but the end result is a super moist, chocolate-mint brownie thanks to unsweetened chocolate and some Andes Mints. It's fun to play dress-up for the holidays and the extra dark chocolate drizzle and peppermint candy on top make them sparkle.
* For a real classic, I have to make sugar cookies! No question about it. I've got a little sugar cookie decorating party in the works for my little one that should be interesting. Kids (and adults) just can't resist these so it's really nice to have around Christmastime. I like to freeze some (already baked and decorated with sprinkles, wrapped individually) and they defrost beautifully so we can have these festive cookies on our Christmas day platter.
* Last but not least, I've got bananas on standby right now because I'm giving them time to fully ripen so I can make several batches of our favorite banana bread. Pictures (or at least my pictures) don't do it justice. With fully ripened bananas, it is the most delicious thing - so moist from yogurt, full of fragrant banana flavor, and loaded with chocolate chips. There's just a hint of ground ginger - (I've played with the spice I use but ginger is my favorite) in it. I like to make 3 small loaves instead of one large so I can pack some up to give as gifts. They freeze incredibly well so it's great to stock up for busy holiday eating and to just enjoy during Christmas vacation.
It's entirely possible - and likely - that a few other favorites will sneak their way onto our table but these are the recipes I'll surely be making this month. I'm looking forward to trying a few new recipes, too. Hopefully, I'll get lucky and find a new favorite or two. I know my son will surely be requesting those Nutella-hazelnut crinkles again.